33 hours on hold: Centrelink clients vent their rage over customer service performance

Centrelink clients have vented their fury over the welfare agency's customer service performance in the wake of revelations it let 22 million phone calls go unanswered in the past financial year.

Fairfax has been overwhelmed with the response to the story, with furious Centrelink users telling of spending 33 hours on hold, making hundreds of fruitless attempts to get the agency to pick up the phone and of repeated failures of the much-vaunted online customer service options.

Others have told how they tried to front-up to Centrelink shopfronts only to be chased away by public servants tasked with "greeting" clients or directed to banks of telephones in the corner of the of the office where their tele-ordeal would begin again.

Only 40 million of the 62 million attempts to contact Centrelink by phone in the 2014-2015 financial year were "successful", its parent department Human Services has confirmed to a Senate inquiry, meaning the agency answered 4 million fewer calls than it managed the previous year.

Senior Human Services executives are telling complainants that the large volume of calls coming through to Centrelink lines made delays inevitable.


Are you mad as hell? Tell us

But readers' reaction to the latest bad set of figures indicates that there is broad groundswell of rage among Centrelink's millions of clients around Australia at their treatment by the agency.

 "After wasting over 33 hours in 10 calls to a 1300 number – I pay 40 cents per call – I went in person to shopfront waited again for one  hour for an answer which took five minutes," one reader fumed.

Another client told of how they were left with a stinging telephone bill for their multiple attempts to contact Centrelink.

"I attempted to call Centrelink on several occasions until finally I was determined to remain on line and wait," the reader wrote.

"The wait took 67 minutes.

"The answer revolved around me being advised to go online. 

"I checked the Telstra bill when received, the call cost $72."

One reader supplied the response to their continued complaints from DHS manager of communication and media Jake Winter, who claimed that 56.8 million calls had been "handled" in 2014-2015.

 "This demand is growing in response to changes in the social security system and the increasing complexity of customer enquiries," Mr Winter wrote.

"Given this, customers may experience delays from time to time and especially during peak periods

"The department acknowledges it can be frustrating when people experience delays in reaching a service officer."

Some clients told of being caught in a bureaucratic nightmare, unable to get the Centrelink website to work, then repeatedly referred back to the website after lengthy waits on hold.

"Spent half an afternoon navigating their complex website, finally giving up on the idea that I was able to notify them that way," one reader wrote.

"I then attempted three phone calls.

"The whole time I was on hold – over an hour each time – it kept telling me that all the answers and services I needed could be found on the website."

Pensioners were doing it particularly tough, often lacking the skills to comply with Centrelink's instructions to go online to solve their problems, and elderly Australians were heavily represented among the clients to contact Fairfax.

"I'm a senior citizen, and it's happened so many times that I've given up attempting to call them," one pensioner wrote.

"I've even had calls answered after waiting 30 minutes, only to have the call answered and then transferred to another department, and then hung up after waiting another 30 minutes."

Another elderly client voiced their frustration at the "appalling service". 

"(I) often wait 25 to 55 minutes for an answer and if you are lucky (you) don't get the dreaded  'this is handled by another department, I will transfer you'," the user wrote.
"Going to a Centrelink office is a life changing event.
"(They) definitely do not cater for the elderly."


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